Frukost under stora björken is an 1896 painting is by Carl Larsson, the noted Swedish painter, much admired by many 'ere on this staff for both his craft and as an individual who really was worth knowing. Though like Sweden at this time of the waning summer, it's getting just a bit nippy to be eating breakfast outside even on the warmest of days, there's lots to do 'ere at Green Man of which not the least of which is try and put a dent in the massive backlog of books and recordings which accumulate over the long summer as the musicians in the Neverending Session and reviewers 'ere do have one thing in common -- summers are a time to do anything but work if at all possible!
Don't get me started about the conversation of which band they like the best that took up most of the summer -- Eddi and The Fey... Nazgul... Boiled in Lead... Steeleye Span... Jump at the Sun... New St. George... Blowzabella... Flash Girls... And my favourite, a Welsh folk punk band by the name of Ymyl Danheddog... No one came to blows, but tempers definitely got short!
So this is why we have a very fat edition this time for you to peruse -- some of the books looked at include a travel guide to Alexandria, doorways of Cairo (!), musicians Ashley Hutchings and Steve Goodman, a Victorian era railway mystery; a review of the soundtrack to Ken Burn's World War II series, and even a look at a film celebrating the life of the Fender Stratocaster!
Oh, do first read our tale of mushrooming in Oberon's Wood! And no, I have no idea who the King is that was invited to this year's repast of mushrooms and other tasty treats... in the meantime, I'll be having a hot toddy in the Pub on this crisp evening...
Well, here we are, are you ready? Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were among my fellow mushroom hunters! How d'you do? My name is Kate, I'm one of the Assistant Cooks in the kitchens here, and I'm all dressed like this to go mushrooming -- oh yes, in Oberon's Wood! Mrs. Ware has the most divine receipt for risotto with morels, just for this time of year.
Oh me, no, we never go mushrooming but in groups, and it's the Head Gardener who leads us only. At least, in Oberon's Wood! The King himself has given us permission to mushroom in his woods, so long as Mr. Eldridge invites him for one of the morel dinners, but it's still quite a dangerous place. Only the Head Gardeners know all the ins and outs of getting in and out with the morels, and any group without the Head Gardener with them will run all the risks anyone does in the Wood.
We're still waiting for Patrick to come back, you know -- he was one of the under-gardeners about a century or so ago. They went mushrooming, he got separated from everyone else, and one of the Fey took a fancy to poor Patrick. The Head Gardener back then went to the Fey Court to protest and to try and get him back in one piece, but the most he could get was a promise that Patrick would be returned to us when his Fey was tired of him. It's almost been a hundred years now, I believe, and that's about the usual time, so the gardening staff has been on the lookout. I'll bet Patrick's gardens there are quite nice by now... I hope he's not gone mad as a hatter.
Old Gus, our Head Gardener now, knows all the things to look out for, where the sweet spots are where the morels come back dependably, or as dependably as any morel patch does...and all the regular mushrooming things, of course, plus there's the extra bits of mushrooming in a fairy wood. Mushrooming is dicey enough, what with poisonous ones and mushrooms that look like other mushrooms but aren't, and all. Oh my, no, I don't know all that, I go along to learn about mushrooms and mainly to help carry morels and other mushrooms back.
It's rather dangerous, being one of the bag carriers, actually, so one of the senior Under Gardeners are always among us to take a look at the shrooms as people gather them and hand their bags over. There's always little creatures in mushrooms, for they like them as much as we do, but the creatures from a fey wood are sometimes a tad more dicey to chase around one's kitchen, especially if they're angry for being doused in salt water when we soak the mushrooms. The King's given the Cook a charm for the kitchen, but every now and again someone or something doesn't get the hint, and sometimes we have to call one of our resident Fey in to help clear the kitchen.
There's a story that the King once got a morel dish at dinner here with a fey creature in it -- supposedly it jumped out of his dish and bit him on the finger, not realizing whose dish it was in. That was when he gave our Cooks the charm, see!
Mrs. Ware makes a lovely polenta with mushrooms, and that risotto with morels is Mr. Eldridge's favorite, so he always gets to pick who shares that meal with him. The best recipes are the simplest -- morels sauteed with a bit of butter are probably the very best, really. I like them in eggs though, for breakfast!
Oh, here comes Gus and the rest of our little party, boots and all -- see you later, be sure to be here for dinner tonight, there's bound to be morels!
This edition's featured reviews have a distinctly English flavour, with a particular focus on the Sixties and Seventies folk-rock movement.
First up, our featured book review this week is from Michael Hunter, who comes to us with a review of Brian Hinton & Geoff Wall's biography of folk musician Ashely Hutchings -- Ashley Hutchings: Always Chasing Rainbows. Michael feels that 'It's a personal and honest telling of the story of one of the most important figures in folk rock, and is pretty much what you'd want an Ashley Hutchings biography to be.' And ' If I had to summarise in one sentence -- this is a book that will make even the most enthusiastic follower of Ashley Hutchings or English folk rock realise there is a lot more to the story than they imagined!' For the full review, go here.
Next, David Kidney turns to those other legends of English folk-rock, Pentangle, and a compilation of their work, The Time Has Come -- 1967-1973. 'This box set (actually, it's more like a book) contains four discs. I would have argued for a fifth, just to keep the 'pentangling' theme going. Maybe a DVD! But the four CDs are chock full of wondrous music. Wondrous, but virtually impossible to categorize. And that's why they never had the audience that many louder, often less gifted, bands had. Here, in this set, the time has come for reassessment, and for appreciation... The Time Has Come for everyone to hear them. This four-disc set is the perfect introduction.' Read David's full reassessment and appreciation right 'ere!
Finally is our featured live review from the Cropredy Music Festival, hosted by the Grandfathers of English folk-rock, Fairport Convention. John O'Regan was lucky enough to spend the entire weekend at this year's Cropredy... and more! 'It was my ninth time to experience the Cropredy magic and the unique atmosphere it generates. Cropredy is more than just a music festival; it is a social event and a gathering of Fairport Convention fans and friends, scattered wide throughout the world... This was a powerful display of the Fairport Convention magic in action and what better place to witness this folk-rock institution than on their adopted home ground. 'Meet on the Ledge' was the anthemic closer to a weekend of musical excellence headlined by a legendary band. 40 years of musical activity was suitably remembered but Fairport Convention's wish to develop and grow while avoiding resting on their laurels is glaringly obvious... With the final notes lingering in the ether, Cropredy 2007 wound its way into history. If you haven't been there you ought to go. Whether you are a Fairport Convention fan or not, Cropredy Music Festival is one of life's experiences.' Take a trip back to the lush meadows of the Oxfordshire countryside, with John's thorough and fond review of this memorable musical event. You'll find it over 'ere!
Camille Alexa starts us off this week with a look at Eddie Campbell's graphic novel The Black Diamond Detective Agency. She states that Campbell's work 'is not a clear-cut action story. It is not a clear-cut romance. In those ways it departs from what is usually thought of as standard 'comic book' tradition, while, not unparadoxically, simultaneously drawing heavily from the same.' Intrigued? Read the full review to get pulled in!
For her second offering, Camille looked at Matthew Jarpe's debut novel, Radio Freefall, which she wrote ' reminded most of the novels of Elmore Leonard, especially in the intuitive, dialog-driven action and periodically insightful male/female dynamics.' Besides, how could you go wrong when the main character is named Aqualung!?! For the scoop, go read her full review.
Donna Bird extends her interest in all things Egyptian to a book about, all thing, doorways, with Ahmed Abdel-Gawad's Enter in Peace: The Doorways of Cairo Homes, 1872-1950. She says the volume 'is exactly what the subtitle suggests: a book of photographs of the doorways of homes located in Cairo, Egypt and originally built between 1872 and 1950.' And also that it 'makes sense if you think of it primarily as a reference. It would certainly be useful to anyone planning a visit to Cairo and interested in seeing something beyond the usual tourist attractions.' You can read the rest of her review here.
Next up, Donna looks at guidebook of Alexandria, Egypt -- Alexandria and the Egyptian Mediterranean, by Jenny Jobbins and Mary Megalli. Although she has a few quibbles about the content -- read her review to see what they are -- she concludes, 'Alexandria and the Egyptian Mediterranean is, for me, a good addition to my library of books about Egypt. If I were planning a trip to that part of the world, I would want to consult other references, as well.'
Donna's third review for the week is a novel, Edward Marston's The Railway Detective -- A Detective Inspector Colbeck Mystery. Now mind you, Donna hadn't cared for the last book in this series she'd been given, but this one fared better, it seems. She does say that it is ' a much more readable offering,' although she does seem to have some issues with the content and his narrative style. To see what, read on.
Donna also looked at a murder mystery set in the time of Henry VIII, Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom. She says, ' Sovereign is quite long, well over five hundred pages, and narrated entirely in the first person by Shardlake. Because of this focused viewpoint, the reader isn't privy to any intelligence until Shardlake himself figures it out. I like this approach to a mystery, myself. Some readers might find the novel's length daunting. I must confess I became overwhelmed by the number and diversity of the attempts on Shardlake's life, as well as by the number of enemies he seemed to have -- or to make -- during the course of the story.' To see if you might find this historical mystery overwhelming -- or entertaining -- read all she has to say here.
Donna's final offering this week is Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party, a novel inspired by -- and about -- Renior's famous painting of the same name. Vreeland's novel found favour with Donna, who says, 'I generally found it an enjoyable read, as well. I particularly appreciated the way Vreeland portrayed Renoir's visual interpretations of his surroundings, all light and color and pattern. Her thorough research into French history and culture really shows in her detailed descriptions of the cabarets of Montmartre, the meals Madame Fournaise prepares for the models, and the politics of the art scene.' For more details, read the full review.
J.J.S. Boyce, by his own admission, had mixed feelings about Judith Lindbergh's The Thrall's Tale, but leaves it open as to whether others may enjoy this historical novel: ' For the amateur historian or Norse enthusiast, therefore, this book has a lot to offer. Taken purely as a work of literature, the style and pacing may have made the book difficult for me to get through at times (though this may not be true of everyone). But upon reading the historical notes, reviewing the events of the story in my head, and considering the historical and cultural implications of what I had learned, I found that I was continuing to think about the book long after I finished it. I had to finish The Thrall's Tale to realize I was glad I had read it, so potential readers will have to decide what they hope to get out of it before they can determine whether they may feel the same.' For his full review, go here.
Craig Clarke offers up non-fiction this week with Peter Straub's Sides. Craig believes that 'there is little in Sides that devoted Straubians will find a vital addition to the oeuvre. It is, like its title and cover art imply, a mere collection of side dishes to accompany the main course novels, not to overpower them or even exist on the same level. If this book were an album of music, it would almost certainly be a collection of 'b-sides' (an anachronism almost totally lost on a modern audience familiar only with one- or no-sided media) -- extraneous works easily ignored or forgotten, engaging experiments and fluff, but filler more or less.' For all that Craig has to say about Straub's collection, you can go here.
Richard Dansky was quite pleased with Cameron Rogers' debut novel, The Music of Razors. He says, ' You may not be able to explain what happened in The Music of Razors in under an hour if asked, but with writing this good, you won't need to. Just hand whoever asks the book and stand back. With a book this impressive, it's best they discover it for themselves.' For more of Richard's Excellence in Writing Award-winning review, go here.
Richard was similarly impressed with Elizabeth Wein's The Lion Hunter, book one of a new trilogy about her young hero Telemakos. He concludes, 'Ultimately, The Lion Hunter is not a book one reads with an eye towards 'what happens?' It's far more interested in what might happen next, and why it's going to happen, and that, in my opinion, makes for a deeply engrossing read.' For more such praise, read his full review.
David Kidney reviews a graphic novel he says is long overdue for a GMR review: Daniel Clowes' Ghost World. He feels it's 'an essential piece of comic book writing and art.' Heady praise, that! To see why he believes this so strongly, go read his review!
Chris Tuthill reviews a quirky satire for us this week, Nick Mamatas' Under My Roof. He has high praise for book and author alike: ' Under My Roof is a hilarious satire, the kind of book that evokes the bitter wit of Kurt Vonnegut. It is funny, politically relevant, and wonderfully crafted. The farcical comedy coupled with overtones of nuclear annihilation remind one of Dr. Strangelove, and it's my opinion that Mamatas is a novelist to be watched.' To find out why he liked it so much, read the review!
Gary Whitheouse tackles a biography about a musician who many of us won't recognize, although we absolutely know his best known song ('City of New Orleans'). The musician is Steve Goodman, and the biography is Clay Eals' Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. Gary sums up his review by saying 'as an inveterate reader of music lore, I loved the book, even though I sometimes wished for the Reader's Digest version. Kudos on the book's design, which among other things puts photos, drop quotes and footnotes in a column on the outer third of each page.' For a more in-depth look, check out his Excellence in Writing Award-winning review here!
Gary's second review for us this week is a look at William Gibson's latest, Spook Country, of which he says, 'I had a hard time putting Spook Country down. The chapters are short, the action punchy and almost non-stop. Explication is handled adroitly. And several times I laughed out loud, at situations and at the clever writing. That's not to say it's perfect. I found myself annoyed at the sheer volume of person and place references . . . On the other hand, the attention to detail is what gives the story its aura of reality. The level of Gibson's knowledge about seemingly useless trivia -- such as how to jigger an electrician's zip-tie -- and his ability to make such trivia work for the story, is astounding.' Go here for more of Gary's thoughts.
Matthew Scott Winslow wraps up our book reviews this go 'round with a look at John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, book two of his Chronicles of Chaos series. Matthew declares that this is ' another good book from an author who is quickly building a strong reputation for himself as one of the better fantasy authors of the decade.' If you want more than that tease, go read the review!
David Kidney brings us a very enthusiastic review of a documentary film, celebrating the life of the Fender Stratocaster. 'Strat Masters is exactly what it claims to be, and more. In this 167 minute programme you will learn how Leo Fender came up with the idea and the design of the Fender Stratocaster. You'll hear Don Randall talk about early marketing techniques. You'll see the Fender factories in the USA and in Japan, where the guitars are made, and where the pickups are made in Seymour Duncan's facilities in Santa Barbara. Guitarists Ry Cooder, Chris Rea, Sonny Curtis, and Buddy Merrill discuss their use of (and love for) the Strat in intimate clips.' If this snippet has whet your appetite, the rest of David's review can be found here!
David's next DVD review finds him venturing into the world of jazz, with the 2-DVD set, Improvisation. 'Eagle Rock Entertainment has just released a wonderful 2-DVD set called Improvisation, which includes the original 1944 nominee and a wealth of unseen material. Jazz writer Nat Hentoff presents the material as narrator and then the historic footage starts. Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich start things off. If you don't recognize these names, they represent the very best in the jazz world... This is an extraordinary set, an absolute essential for anyone with an interest in jazz -- THE American music.' Step this way to read the rest of David's review.
David Kidney starts off this batch of reviews with a look at a Steve Tilson box set, Reaching Back: the life and music of Steve Tilston. David's thought? 'Our favourite box-set developers have come up with their latest title. . . . We called Free Reed "the greatest Box-Set maker in the world . . . nay, Universe!" and . . . we stand by that claim. Nobody, anywhere, puts the effort into providing the quality, depth of research, and variety of unreleased recordings that Free Reed does. When this new set was delivered by my friendly uniformed government representative, I only had one question. Who is Steve Tilston?' Don't worry; David had a better idea once the review was done, so check it out!
Peter Massey's look at Five Mile Chase's Your Town met with a similar, head-scratching, response. 'Five Mile Chase are Django Amerson on fiddle, bouzouki, plus backing vocals, and Brian Miller on guitar, flute, accordion, whistle and vocals, with Owen Weaver on snare drum and percussion. Usually, when I first put pen to paper to write a review, I listen to the album several times then write what I think of the music content. Afterwards, if I have never heard of the artist before, I generally hit the Internet for some background information on the artist and paste it in if it is relevant to the recording. As it happens, this was just the case for Five Mile Chase.' Did these new-to-Peter musicians fare well? His review let's you know.
'The 21st century has been good for Martin Simpson. Ever since his first appearance on the folk scene in the early 1980s he has been a major force on that very scene, but since the turn of the century he has produced a string of brilliant albums raising him up to new heights. Bramble Briar was a excursion into English music, Righteousness & Humidity took us to America, Kind Letter explored the big ballads, and on Prodigal Son you get all of those ingredients together on one album.' Lars Nilsson draws on his knowledge of Martin Simpson's previous offerings in his look at Simpson's newest release, Prodigal Son. If you're looking for something to add to your shelves, you may want to take a look at what Lars has to say; this review has got me itching to give this cd a listen myself!
War -- what is it good for? According to Gary Whitheouse, some pretty good music, at least. His look at four cds worth of World War II-era music stretches across several genres, encompassing a large part of what The Greatest Generation was listening to during those trying times. 'Ken Burns has assembled a monumental soundtrack to his monumental documentary about the Second World War. This set of complementary discs was released shortly before the series first aired on PBS in the United States in September 2007. In part it is an exercise in sonic nostalgia, as some of the biggest and best-known hits of the 1940s are included on two discs. But it's also a tribute to the art of choosing and creating music to accompany words and images about that war.'
Gary's next cd review takes a look at The Essential Waylon Jennings, a compilation he thinks could interest the rabid fan as well as the casual listener. 'One of my close relatives is a major Waylon Jennings fan from way back. . . . Me, I usually liked Waylon's songs that got played on the radio, with the possible exception of the blatantly Lone Star pandering "Luckenbach, Texas." But somehow I never got around to buying any of his records; they just never rose high enough on my radar, and I was more interested in other types of music when Waylon was in his prime. . . . It seems, to this fairly casual fan, to be a good career overview.'
Mike Wilson wraps up this edition's CD reviews with a listen to Luka Bloom's latest album, Tribe, which sounds like something of a departure from Luka's usual sound. 'Tribe is effectively a collaboration between Luka Bloom and Irish multi-instrumentalist Simon O'Reilly. It is absolutely not what I was expecting from a Luka Bloom album, at all! The more traditional acoustic approach is ditched in favour of an ethereal electro-acoustic production. Luka's vocals are not nearly as prominent as on previous recordings, and certainly less so than in his live performances -- instead he sings in hushed, disembodied tones that are every bit as potent as anything he's recorded before.' The rest of Mike's review can be read here!
The roasting, the feasting and the hours of horseplay helped to create a special warmth on this cold, hard day. Then the fire was stoked and fed to make a warm place where there could be dancing until darkfall. Martin was very drunk. Rebecca danced alone, wide skirts swirling, hair flowing as the accordion wheezed out its jig, and feet stamped on the stone flags at the edge of the field, where the pit had been dug. -- Robert Holdstock's Merlin's Wood
edited by the gov'nor
Posted 9:38 pm PST 6th October LLS